Leslie Cabarga is a type designer – except when he’s an illustrator, or a graphic artist, or a book designer or lettering artist. In addition to these varied professional hats (each one would provide an entire career for an ordinary mortal), Cabarga is also a published author, with more than thirty books to his credit. Clearly, this man knows how to manage his time.
Lettering each of his second grade homework papers in a different style did not improve his dismal school record, but it did mark the beginning of Cabarga’s lifelong affection for letters. Cabarga survived second grade but eventually dropped out of high school to be an underground cartoonist. He continued to do all his own lettering, and especially relished the display lettering of comic strip logos.
By the mid-1970s Cabarga had gravitated to illustration, providing covers and interior art for such publications as Time, Newsweek, Fortune, The New York Times, Rolling Stone and Esquire. At the same time he maintained a dual identity, doing lettering for clients under the name "Handy Lettering Co."
At age forty, however, Cabarga had a revelation. “I must be a designer!” he recalls thinking. “Illustrators usually have one drawing style. Designers draw in whatever style is necessary or interesting. In hindsight, I guess that’s why my work has always been eclectic,” he adds. “There are just too many neat styles to try out, rather than settle for doing just one.”
Working on his first Macintosh computer in 1990, Cabarga was able to fulfill his dream of creating digital fonts. One of the first was BadTyp, a parody of amateurs’ lettering mistakes. Then came his streamlined script series, which included Magneto Bold, Raceway, Rocket and Streamline. All of these were essentially revivals of popular hand-lettered styles from the 1920s and 1930s. In fact, Cabarga is a big fan of old sign and poster lettering, and many of his typefaces reflect his desire to keep those traditionally hand-lettered styles alive. Examples of these include Central Station, Kobalt Bold and Black.
How does this man of many hats define his own career? “I guess I do a little of everything,” Cabarga says. These days, Cabarga enjoys his independence: writing, illustrating, creating magazine and book covers, producing art for television and cable – and filling notebooks with sketches for new typefaces.